The soldiers of the guard take Jesus into the hall of the Prætorium, and all the men of the cohort are summoned to the scene; there are few amusements in this occupied country. And yet the Saviour has often shown Himself to have a special sympathy with soldiers. He admired the trust and humility of the centurion and his affectionate care for the servant whom He healed. Later, it will be the centurion of the guard on Calvary who will be the first to proclaim His divinity. The cohort seems, however, to be seized by a collective frenzy which Pilate had not foreseen. Satan is there, breathing hatred into them.
But that is enough. Nothing is said, there are just blows; and let us try to follow to the end. They remove His clothes and bind Him, naked, to a column of the hall. The arms are held up in the air and the wrists are bound to the shaft.
The scourging is done with numerous thongs to which are fixed, at some distance from the loose ends, two balls of lead or small piece of bone. (Certainly, the stigmata on the Holy Shroud correspond to this type of flagrum.) The number of strokes is limited to thirty-nine by Hebrew law. But His executioners are legionaries without restraint, and they will go on to the point of making Him faint. There are, in fact, marks without number on the shroud, and they are nearly all on the back; the front of the body is against the column. They are to be seen on the back, on the shoulders and the loins. The lashes fall on His thighs and on the calves of His legs; and it is there that the ends of the thongs, beyond the balls of lead, encircle the limb and mark it with a furrow right round to the other side.
There are two executioners, one on each side of Him, of unequal height (all this may be deduced from the direction of the marks on the shroud). They alternate their strokes, with great zest. At first, the strokes leave long livid marks, long blue bruises beneath the skin. Remember that the skin has already been affected; that it is sore owing to the millions of little intra-dermic hæmorrhages brought about by the sweat of blood. Further marks are made by the balls of lead. Then the skin, into which the blood has crept, becomes tender and breaks under fresh blows. The blood pours out; shreds of skin become detached and hang down. The whole of the back is now no more than a red surface, on which great furrows stand out like marble; and, here and there, everywhere, there are deeper wounds caused by the balls of lead. These wounds, shaped like a halter (the two balls and the thong between them), will make their marks on the shroud.
At each stroke, the body gives a painful shudder. But He has not opened His mouth, and His silence redoubles the Satanic rage of His executioners. It is no longer a cold-blooded, judicial execution; it is the unchaining of demons. The blood flows from His shoulders down to the earth (the large paving-stones are covered with it), and is scattered like rain by the lifted whips as far as the red cloaks of the onlookers. But the strength of the Victim soon begins to fail; sweat breaks out on His forehead; His head whirls with giddiness and nausea; shivers run down His spine; His legs give way under Him, and if He was not tied up by His wrists, He would slip down into the pool of blood. They have completed the count, even though they have not counted. After all, they have not received the order that He should die under the lash. Let Him recover a bit; there will be further chances for amusement.
Dr Pierre Barbet ~ ‘The Corporal Passion’ from ‘A Doctor at Calvary’